Recognizing the Dedication of Doctoral Students

If you are pursuing a doctoral degree, some folks may perceive you as an “academic failure.” It’s a common misconception that doctoral students are continuing their education because they couldn’t secure a “real” job in their chosen field. You also hear that you were not smart enough to go to “medical school,” so you are not a real doctor.

Sigh. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Doctoral students are some of the most highly educated individuals in the world, and they often have excellent academic records. At least those that do a doctorate in professional schools (business, engineering, law, etc. – I know these as they are in my areas), they have thriving careers. If they would stay in the real world, they would generally be a leader of the field.

In fact, that is what we often select on. How likely would they be a success in any given field.

One example of a superstar academic who struggled with their PhD research is Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson – the famous astrophysicist. He struggled, and he recognized that this selection process was everything in the PhD process:

Doctoral students choose to pursue a research-based career because they are passionate about their field and want to make a significant contribution to it. Nothing more.

Indeed, anyone was to believe that they would fail at their career, they would likely not get into a doctoral program.

Check out this important post on why we need to start recognizing PhD students.

The Perception of Doctoral Students as “Academic Failures”

Frankly, I don’t know where the perception that doctoral students are failures comes from. It just seems so strange when you look at the application process. It is very difficult to get into a PhD Program, and even more difficult to complete one.

The perception that doctoral students are “academic failures” is not only false but also discredits their hard work and dedication. It creates a false narrative that doctoral students are unsuccessful, despite their impressive academic credentials. In reality, pursuing a doctorate is a challenging endeavor that requires significant dedication and hard work.

Think of it as climbing a mountain. Those who want to climb a mountain would be foolish to start without some competency.

Why You Feel Like A Failure

A Challenging Endeavor

Pursuing a doctorate is not an easy option. It requires significant sacrifices and commitments, and doctoral students must develop advanced research skills, think critically, and engage in independent and original research. This is hard to do.

Most will find it so challenging that they will want to constantly quit. Even most professors do.

Loneliness is a common experience among doctoral students, as the nature of the work can be isolating. Doctoral students spend long hours working independently and may not have opportunities for socializing. You are the only one that is researching the topic of interest in the world, so who could relate? This can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Impostor syndrome is another common experience among doctoral students. This is the feeling of being a fraud or not belonging, despite evidence of one’s competence and accomplishments. Doctoral students may feel like they are not smart enough, skilled enough, or experienced enough, even though they are already a success. Impostor syndrome can lead to self-doubt, anxiety, and a lack of confidence.

Pursuing a doctorate is a challenging endeavor that requires a great deal of dedication, hard work, and intellectual rigor. Doctoral students should be recognized for their perseverance and commitment to their research.

Why doing a loneliness epidemic is happening in a PhD

Advancing Knowledge and Solving Real-World Problems

Doctoral students play a crucial role in the creation of new knowledge and the advancement of their field. They are the ones who push the boundaries of their discipline, challenging existing knowledge and creating new ideas. Without the work of doctoral students, our understanding of the world would be limited, and progress in various fields would be stunted.

Truly – it would. Everyone recognizes their dedication in the field.

You have to recognize that in order to get recognized you have to be well accomplished in the field.

The Importance of a Doctoral Degree

Moreover, the perception that doctoral students are “academic failures” ignores the reality of the current job market. In many fields, a doctoral degree is just damn hard to get. Getting a research job not only requires a doctorate, but also that you are quite skilled in it. Pursuing a doctorate is not a sign of failure but rather a strategic decision to acquire the necessary skills and qualifications to succeed in their chosen field. Doctoral students are positioning themselves for a future life.

Check out all of the reasons why you should not get a PhD


The perception of doctoral students as “academic failures” is a significant misunderstanding that can discredit their hard work and dedication.

It’s time to dispel this misconception and recognize doctoral students as critical function of advancing knowledge production and understanding of the world. Pursuing a doctorate is a challenging endeavor that requires significant sacrifices.

It’s time to recognize and appreciate their hard work and dedication.

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